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The business case for mentorship

Byna Elliott
Head of Advancing Black Pathways
JPMorgan Chase

When I began my career, I did not envision myself advancing beyond entry-level professional. I thought I would do just enough to pay the bills. Fortunately, someone saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time, and it was through that mentorship that my outlook on – and outcome of — my career totally changed.  

I first met my mentor, who was a leader in the financial community, at an event we both attended. Unexpectedly, she approached me and said, “I see something in you – you are smart, amazing, and I want to help you!”  Since that moment, she has remained a mentor to me and a true fixture in my life. My mentor spoke my name into rooms I never thought I would have the opportunity to enter. And as she progressed in her career, she created space for me to also progress and grow.

All too often, professionals lump efforts like networking, mentorship, sponsorship and diversity, equity and inclusion work into the soft skills bucket. They consider these soft skills nice-to-haves or non-revenue drivers, as diametrically opposed to the hard skills that are more aligned with business results. 

This is a false dichotomy. 

The truth is, having a mentor or sponsor is a business asset, not only for the people engaged in those roles, but for the business and bottom line. What’s more, investing in developing mentoring programs and initiatives that foster career development, particularly for those most often left out of those opportunities, creates a more level playing field and drives stronger business results. The evidence supports this. Nine out of 10 workers who have a career mentor say they are happy in their jobs, according to a CNBC survey, and retention rates for mentees are much higher. What’s more, companies that have greater diversity, including in their upper ranks, report higher profits, according to a 2021 McKinsey study.

“We know that people tend to gravitate towards others who share commonalities and in workplaces and industries that lack diversity, this translates to inequities in access to mentors for minority groups. We know that the lack of mentorship is holding many back from career progression, according to Harvard Business Review.”

We also know that Black Americans account for 12% of the U.S. population, but only hold 3.2% of senior leadership roles and occupy just 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions, according to the Center for Talent Innovation. And despite making up a majority of the U.S. population, women are afforded less opportunities for growth in leadership roles, and the average white, non-Hispanic woman earns 78.7% of white, non-Hispanic men. Black women are paid even less, earning 63% less than white, non-Hispanic men according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This is not necessarily because minorities are paid less than men in equal roles, but often because there are fewer minorities in higher paying roles. That is in part because they’ve not had mentors or sponsors who have helped to create pathways for their advancement.

Balancing the scales of wealth and representation in the workforce requires dedicated strategic initiatives and deliberate investments in developing diverse talent to create the next generation of leaders that better represent the communities that they serve. 

I’m proud to have worked my way up to an executive role and get to lead initiatives like our $30 million commitment to expand pathways through student development programming and financial education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as partnerships with nonprofits such as digitalundivided’s BREAKTHROUGH Program, which provides grants and coaching to minority-owned small businesses. It’s how we’re strengthening the firm’s reach by partnering with public and private institutions to develop Black talent. It’s how companies can make a substantive difference in closing the opportunity gap while shoring up a stronger business.

I learned a few lessons about mentorship that are critical:

  • Mentorship is important no matter where you are — everyone needs a trusted, valued partner. When mentors are active in your growth and development, they can often see opportunities that a mentee can’t see for themselves. It’s about planting a seed and potentially changing the trajectory of an individual’s life.
  • A mentor and mentee must build a vulnerable space and engage in honest and proactive conversations. To have transformative discussions, the relationship between the mentor and mentee should be established and authentic.
  • Mentorship is critical, especially at large and matrixed organizations. Navigating and progressing in your career at a big organization can be difficult. Participating in mentorship at the firm allows you to have insight into opportunities that are available to you outside of what may be apparent.

I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without a mentor who perhaps saw her younger self reflected in me, and decided to invest in my success. My mentor not only created pathways for me to grow from entry level to executive, but helped to instill in me the importance of paying that sponsorship forward. Once you’ve established your voice in the room you have a responsibility to make room for others to follow, because progress won’t happen unless we promote one another. That’s true whether you’re an individual, or a business.

As I progressed in my career, I learned that peer mentorship is just as important as mentee–mentor relationships. Peers can provide valuable and constructive feedback that can support your development, be strong advocates, and can be a voice of encouragement. 


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